Running is essentially a competition against ourselves. We are always pushing to see if we can run the route faster, finish a longer course, log more miles than the week before. But very few runners will say they run for this competitive factor alone. Most enjoy running because it clears their head, it helps them relax – and it’s fun.
But with the sheer amount of information available to runners every time they step out the door, it can be all too easy to get caught up in tracking the details – cadence, calories burned, time per mile. While there is a role for tracking in training, sometimes you need to stop timing yourself and just enjoy your run. And indulging in timer-free runs can seriously boost your race outcomes.
How it works
Pavel Tsatsouline, a former Soviet Special Forces trainer best known for developing efficient ways to strength train, has discovered runners can also benefit from efficiency training. “The harder you push your body, the more stubbornly it refuses change.”
Runners may scoff at this as we are no strangers to training hard, explicitly to bring about results. But this statement doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. It means you work really hard, but no more than you have to. And the rest of the time, you treat your body to relaxation.
What does this mean for running?
When you’re constantly stressing out about results, you’re not giving your body and mind a good reason to keep going. When every run is a strenuous challenge, you are teaching yourself running is difficult and a struggle.
But the most effective training is not about constantly pushing yourself to the very limits of your ability, because your muscles don’t need to be pushed to the limits to know what to do. They only need to remember the motions. And when you need them to, they will perform. As long as you prepare them, and give them enough time to recover and relax.
That’s why you should mix up your difficult training with runs that are easy in every sense of the word. That means no timer, no time per mile, no distance goal – and also no stress.
How to apply these principles to your training
At least once a week:
- Leave your watch at home, and turn off WalkJogRun. Seriously, no tracking. At all.
- Run at a low intensity. Either use a heart rate monitor to stay within 60-65% of your maximum heart rate, or simply make sure that your breath is even and steady and you don’t feel like your heart is racing.
- Run as far as you can while staying as relaxed as you possibly can. Either choose a route you know that is an easy distance for you, or run out and back keeping a close eye on how your body really feels. If you want to turn around, then do.
- Choose a serene environment, if at all possible, for the best effect.
- Once in a while, do the opposite. In other words: interval training. It doesn’t have to kill you – the whole point is a few short, but well-executed sessions of all-out effort, but only enough so you feel good afterwards, not drained.
Note this kind of “easy” training is more difficult than it sounds. I found I was almost addicted to my tracking devices and apps, with my finger reaching for the button even when I was determined to run without. But it is also much more beneficial than it seems at face value.
Taking your easy runs seriously – and making them effortless – will improve your performance and help you to really enjoy the process of running.
Written by Varia Makagonova.